Trade Recap: The Justin Upton Trade (by Rob Cope)

The Braves were in the middle of their teardown in the 2014-2015 offseason when they decided to deal one of their most valuable players: Justin Upton. Upton had one year remaining until free agency, and after trading Jason Heyward, they decided to go all the way and deal off Upton as well. This would pave the way for the eventual trades of Melvin Upton Jr., Craig Kimbrel, and Evan Gattis.

But the Justin deal would be the trade with the biggest prospect haul, as they weren’t looking to shed payroll (Kimbrel/M. Upton), nor were they looking to get back an established player (like Shelby Miller), or even a stopgap (Cameron Maybin). They were rebuilding, they wanted prospects, and that’s exactly what they got. They traded Justin Upton and Aaron Northcraft for Max Fried, Dustin Peterson, Jace Peterson, and Mallex Smith.

What we gave up:
Justin Upton: Upton had a power outage in his last year in Arizona (only 24 doubles, 17 home runs, and a .430 slugging percentage in a full season’s duty). His power rebounded in Atlanta where he hit 27 and 29 home runs in his two seasons, with a combined SLG of .478. Fine as he was, however, his overall production never quite reached the All-Star level many expected of him. His OPS never returned to its highest levels in Arizona, he stopped stealing bases, and his defense was still below-average-to-average.

He was still a valuable piece because of his contract, as he would only make $14.5M in his one season in San Diego, while generating 3.5 fWAR. Again, a very good player, but not quite a cornerstone. (He did make the All-Star team, but as a charity case: he was the only Padre chosen.)

He didn’t have the ideal “walk year” in San Diego, as he would have his second-worst OPS of his career in the cavernous park. Nonetheless, Detroit signed him to a 6-year contract at a $22M AAV. (In 2016, he had a lower OPS than he’d had in 2015, and Detroit may be ruing their generosity.) Atlanta would never have the resources nor the desire to sign him to that level of a deal.

Aaron Northcraft: Northcraft was a filler piece in the deal. A former 10th-round pick, he had a couple decent seasons in high-A and double-A, but he is now 26 and has yet to reach the big leagues. It doesn’t appear he ever will.

What we received:
Mallex Smith: Mallex is a burner. In the season before being traded for Atlanta, Smith hustled to 88 SBs, but also provided a .834 OPS and positively graded centerfield defense in A- and A+. Mallex spent 2015 in AA and AAA, and made his way to Atlanta in 2016. The jury is still out on him: it appears he can hit, run, and play defense, but how much of each remains to be seen. At worst, he’s a 4th OF at the major league level, but if he hits better than he did in 2016 and takes better routes to balls, he could be an above-average centerfielder as soon as next year. With Ender Inciarte anchored in center, his future in Atlanta is undetermined.

Jace Peterson: Peterson was the first player to reach Atlanta. He was mostly the age of his peers at his minor league stops, and he produced around an .800 OPS at most of his stops in the minor leagues. He graded out as average in most prospect reports as he progressed through San Diego’s system. His first big league season was one to forget as he was Atlanta’s primary second baseman and produced a .239/.314/.335 line in almost 600 PAs. (It was a tale of two seasons for him: in the first half, he put up a decent .255/.334/.358, but in the second half, he hit .220/.290/.311. That won’t cut it.)

When he began the 2016 season in a horrible funk (.182/.260/.205), he was sent to AAA. Upon returning, he showed some promise, hitting .265/.362/.389 while spending time at 2B, 3B, LF, and CF. He had some stretches where he was an above-average major leaguer, and based on what we saw in the second half of 2016, it’s possible that Jace could have a solid career as a super-utility player. But if his offense falls below his second half performance, he will struggle to remain on a major league roster. Still, he’s someone that will be penciled into the 2017 roster unless he’s traded.

Dustin Peterson: This particular Peterson — no relation to Jace, he’s the brother of Mariners prospect D.J. Peterson — was a third baseman when he was traded for, but the Braves moved him to left field before he ever played an inning for them. His 2015 was a forgettable season, but that can be said for many players who were involved in the Carolina Mudcats bus crash. Peterson turned a huge corner in 2016 at AA, where as a 21-year old, he improved his walk rate, power, and batting average while putting up on the best seasons of the Braves’ minor league hitters. He finished with a .282/.343/.431 line with a whopping 38 doubles to add to his 12 home runs. Since he was three years younger than his contemporaries, it’s easy to say that he’ll continue to mature and could see some time in Atlanta in 2017.

Max Fried: Max also took a huge step forward in 2016. Considered a “buy low” candidate because of his recent Tommy John surgery, Fried missed all of 2015 as his elbow recovered. He understandably started the season slow in single-A Rome as he had an ERA near 6 after 7 starts. However, he significantly improved his stock with a 2.74 ERA in 15 starts to close the year. During that period, the lefty had 108 strike outs in 85.2 innings, and he’ll likely move quickly through the Braves’ system going forward. It’s debatable whether Dustin Peterson or Fried have improved their value more since being acquired, but I’d give the edge to Fried considering he has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter while throwing from the left side.

So what?
There aren’t always winners and losers in trades, but it’s clear Atlanta got more value back in this trade. Though Upton had a very good single season in San Diego, it wasn’t enough to prevent an 88-loss season, and the once again rebuilding Padres will regret giving up so much talent. But credit the Braves scouting and player development departments: each of the four players have taken strides forward since the trade. Mallex and Jace are already in Atlanta, Fried is demonstrating major league talent, and Dustin Peterson could be a starting left fielder at some point in the near future.

57 thoughts on “Trade Recap: The Justin Upton Trade (by Rob Cope)”

  1. Fried was a high school teammate of Lucas Giolito, the Natspos starting prospect I believe, and I *THINK* he was drafted two spots ahead of him. So, if he’s recovered, and if the talent level was judged correctly, in 15 years this may be remembered as the Fried Trade instead of the Upton Trade.

  2. Fried went on a tear at the end of the year, striking out everybody. In his last 4 starts, he struck out 10, 10, 11, and 13. A total of 44 K’s against 7 BB in 24.1 innings. That last 13 K start was the championship victory.

    I would be reluctant to trade Fried because his aggregate stats for the season don’t reflect his true potential to dominate.

  3. 1—He was actually taken 9 spots ahead of Giolito and got a slightly higher signing bonus, but that’s because Giolito had just blown out his elbow and was going to be on the shelf for a year after signing. Giolito was widely viewed as the better prospect, health aside.

    But Fried is obviously no slouch, and I’m quite excited he’s looking healthy.

  4. It was wonderful to see the Nationals eliminated on their home turf. Just wonderful.

    I think Roberts stayed with Jansen too long. He got that first out in the 9th and then should have brought Kershaw in to face the lefty Harper. It worked out, but having your closer top 50 pitches was really pushing it.

  5. It’s good for baseball if Bryce Harper is in the biggest games, especially with the Angels being terrible and Trout not getting exposure, so I’m a little disappointed that the Nats lost. But I’m looking forward to seeing Kershaw pitch twice in the NLCS against the Cubs lineup. The playoffs have actually been pretty good this year.

  6. As a lifelong Braves fan, you’d think I’d have a certain amount of sympathy for teams who have a good regular season only to be unceremoniously bounced in the first round of the playoffs, but it turns out I totally don’t.

    Happy trails, Washington. Now that you’ve completed your traditional even-year playoff choke job, I look forward to your traditional odd-year missing of the postseason entirely after an offseason of bragging, hype, arrogance, and entitlement. It’ll be peachy.

  7. “It’s good for baseball if Bryce Harper is in the biggest games…”

    This logic is lost on me. Baseball got along just fine without Barry Bonds making much hay in the postseason (2002 being the exception). Bryce serves his purpose as a regular season hate magnet just fine.

  8. The game’s biggest stars need to be in the playoffs. Nolan Arenado, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper have been largely absent from the game’s biggest games. But it’s not like the NFL and NBA where you can make the playoffs with a good quarterback or a couple star players like the NBA. The game’s best player can get lost on a bad team pretty easily.

  9. This is really why baseball is losing its popularity. It’s not the pace of play. It’s because the culture is becoming more and more individualistic, and Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Lebron James, etc. are becoming extremely popular athletes, and baseball doesn’t really have anyone. And any time you like to express yourself, Brian McCann’s right there to put the kibash on the whole thing.

  10. Much as I like Arenado, he’s not moving the needle. Here are the top 20 Jersey sales from July of 2016:

    1. David Ortiz, Red Sox
    2. Kris Bryant, Cubs
    3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
    4. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
    5. Mike Trout, Angels
    6. Buster Posey, Giants
    7. Jake Arrieta, Cubs
    8. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
    9. Bryce Harper, Nationals
    10. Noah Syndergaard, Mets
    11. Salvador Perez, Royals
    12. Eric Hosmer, Royals
    13. Jacob deGrom, Mets
    14. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
    15. Alex Gordon, Royals
    16. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
    17. David Wright, Mets
    18. Lorenzo Cain, Royals
    19. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
    20. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox

    13 of 20 were in the playoffs and 3 of the top 4 are in the NLCS.

  11. Harper, Trout, and Arenado’s jersey sales are low because they’re not on Fox in October. Big Papi plays in Boston and they play in World Series. That pretty much proves my point.

  12. Well those numbers are from July and I’d say Harper and Trout sales were high enough.

    Jersey sales aren’t a perfect measure for sure, there’s a bangwagon effect I’m sure, just saying there is plenty of star power in the playoffs.

    I was commenting on your point that “the games biggest stars need to be in the playoffs” and my point is that other than Trout they are.

    If your point was the games best players need to be in the playoffs that’s a different story slightly as only 10 of the top 20 made the playoffs by bWAR and Trout, Altuve, Cano, K Seagar, Dozier and Verlander all made the top 10 (with Arenado and Freeman at 11 and 12).

  13. Surprised the names of Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon are in the top 15 of that list. Those guys were below average players this year, and they don’t seem particularly charismatic.

  14. To Rob’s point, the Royals had just won the World Series (and lost in the World Series the year before) and KC is a great baseball town as evidenced by their insane all star voting the past few years.

    It’s a fair point that being on the postseason stage elevates a players stardom.

  15. Bryce Harper has gotten so much slobbering media attention from ESPN and other sports outlets that his lack of jersey sales can’t be blamed on the baseball postseason.

    (See also: Puig, Yasiel)

  16. Baseball is losing popularity? According to what? Attendance was a bit down this year but the business is booming if salaries have anything to do with it.

  17. I’d say Fried’s progress towards the end of the season was more reflective of his potential as it takes many TJers 1.5 years to regain control. Honestly, of the next wave, he excites me the most. I know he was in Rome last year, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he starts in AA. From there, I could see him, Weigel, and Newcomb debuting sometime in 2017.

  18. Depends on our offseason acquisitions. I think we add 2-3 starters and we will see Newcomb at some point. The other two, 2018.

  19. Im glad Snitker got job .. he realtes well with players and they love him and I like how he uses bullpen … FG would leave a guy out there 2 and 3 hitters too long …. but hiring Washington kinda hangs him over Sitkers head .. dont think that was right to do that .. he is well respected but Snitker gonna be looking over his shoulder all year …. IMO

  20. @22. No they aren’t. I have personal knowledge of the discussions and LSU offered to have the game moved to Baton Rouge on the original weekend (which is what ended up happening anyway) and to play at a neutral site and Florida wasn’t interested in any of that. Several Florida teams were able to play rescheduled games that weekend.

    Lots of people dropped the ball but the LSU admin isn’t one of them. The local economy of Baton Rouge should not be punished because Jeremy Foley had no contingency plans and the SEC let him do whatever he wanted. And Florida is still getting to have their makeup home game, as they should.

  21. And the local economy of Gainesville should? When Joe Avila adamantly declares that there will be a home game on November 19th, that tells you all you need to know about his stance. Florida lost two home games this year, so let’s not talk about the local economies of the respective cities.

    Since you have personal knowledge of the discussions, tell me when LSU offered to have the game moved to Baton Rouge. Florida was in a very difficult position. You have a (then) Category 5 hurricane and Gainesville was well within the storm path. Not only was there uncertainty with landfall, but there was uncertainty with resources and the condition of NEFL in the aftermath. Why should Florida have to decide even as early as Thursday afternoon (when the decision to postpone was ultimately made) that they should waive the white flag on playing the game in Gainesville and agree to play in Baton Rouge? Based on the information at the time, Florida should not have had to agree to that.

    When Joe Avila refused to lose his home game, that’s when the negotiations stalled. LSU is lucky Florida has an AD who sees peace within the SEC as something valuable, whereas the only thing Avila saw valuable was saving his job.

  22. In fairness to Arenado, his Jersey has purple on it. I doubt many fans outside of Denver ever wear/buy Rockies jerseys.

  23. I’ve always thought the Rockies should’ve adapted the Colorado license plate for their unis. Already a great design and the green and white color scheme is oddly absent from MLB.

  24. Any argument that insists that baseball is better served by having its biggest stars in its biggest games ignores history. I assure you Ken Griffey Jr.’s popularity was neither boosted nor hurt by his 1995 playoff appearances. And MLB’s popularity was boosted by Griffey Jr. long before he ever appeared in the postseason.

    I think people nowadays just have way too much to worry about besides baseball. Such a shame too. Baseball is one of those things keeps the rhythm in my daily life.

  25. As soon as LSU refused to come back to Gainesville they should have had to forfeit the game. Rob is right Florida has to lose 2 home games this year and gets one back next year.

  26. I wonder how much Alabama pays its recruits. Surely it’s a sliding scale based on their ratings.

  27. I enjoyed it also. The question is not how much alabama players get paid, but how much more money Kamara got to transfer to Tennessee. Whatever they paid him it wasn’t enough.

  28. Worst uga team since the Goff years. They won’t fire him after one season so all I can do is grin and bear it. The fact that that our AD is still employed is seriously one of life’s great mysteries.

  29. Never read too much into a coach’s first and often second year – good or bad. See Nick Saban at Alabama, Ty Willingham at Notre Dame, Gene Chizik at Auburn, Dabo Swinney at Clemson, … Alabama went 7 and 6 and lost to Louisiana Monroe in Saban’s first year for gosh sake.

  30. Jon Heyman:

    Jim Johnson has passed his physical. Deal with braves is $10M for 2 yrs, plus performance bonuses.

  31. I just listened to Dusty Baker’s postgame press conference about how the Dodgers handled Jansen and Kershaw in Game 5 of the DS. Yadda, yadda, well, I wonder how those guys are going to do in the NLCS. I felt like I was listening to Fredi Gonzalez. “Yeah, ya know, Kimbrel was warm in the pen, but you gotta tip your cap to Juan Uribe.”

    Snitker brought Matt freaking Wisler in to close out a regular season game in a losing season. I’m very confident that if we’re in the 2017 playoffs, and it’s the 7th inning, he’ll bring his closer in. Or if Teheran or whomever is rested and the matchup makes sense, I trust him to make the right move. Guess what, Dusty? You don’t have to worry about the NLCS BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT THERE! I’m sure Dave Roberts will figure out how to handle Kershaw going forward. Baker’s a goon.

  32. I really want “Jason Heyward, Superstar” to work, and I really love the guy, but I don’t think he’s going to be that hitter. Too much noise in his swing, too many bad habits. Poor guy, because he seems to be a great leaders, has fun, and plays hard. Oh well.

  33. Let’s say Shae Simmons is hot as Craig Kimbrel in a future postseason, but he still carries the injury issues. Maybe he misses time every year because of tendinitis, sore shoulder, etc. Would you pitch him in, say, 5 games of the NLCS so that you could close it out? Is it worth potentially ruining a reliever’s career so that you can make it to glory?

  34. Heyward still getting that paper no matter what. The Braves had no chance of paying him, but they were wise to move on sooner rather than later.

    Heyward -> Miller -> Swanson

  35. Pete Rose and Alex Rodriguez both said that 8-hole is the hardest spot in the lineup to hit. Como?

  36. Sure, but in the pursuit of getting on base, which is an essential part of hitting, you’re going to rack up a ton of walks in the 8-hole, which causes me to take Dansby’s stats with a grain of salt.

  37. I’m not sure that necessarily follows. Given the near certainty that the batter behind you is going to make out I might think there is more pressure to swing the bat, especially with runners on base. A 2 out walking with the pitcher coming up doesn’t do much good even with the bases empty.

  38. Yes, it may be slightly easier to put up neutral value from the 8-hole, but from the perspective of actually helping to win games, the task the 8-hole hitter is given is difficult. With runners on, you need to drive them in. With no one on and two outs, a position where in the 2 or 6 hole you could swing for the fences, you are instead expected to battle to get on anyway you can, just to clear the pitcher. There are incentives to action attached to the 8-hole that don’t exist elsewhere, or might even be counter-intuitive.

  39. Heyward is getting fastballs down the pike and can’t catch up. He could be hitting anywhere in the lineup and it wouldn’t matter.

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